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by Rebecca Alber
Tori Amos got kicked out of music school and hit the gay bar circuit -- all by age thirteen.
There is a black and white photo showing the now familiar photo from the Caught A Lite Sneeze single of Tori sitting on a dirty mattress.
OK, she's not queer. But there is certainly something about Tori Amos that draws a large gay audience. Is it her music, her charm, her roots, perhaps? Picture this: a Methodist minister's daughter who could pound out enough piano jam to start playing the gay bar circuit at the tender age of thirteen. The gay bars have made me so comfortable about other people's expression," Amos says.
She looks back on those early days in the Washington D.C. gay bar scene with sentiment and value. "I was shown how to dress, how to kiss a boy and how to be an independent woman. The dykes gave me a great gift. 'Draw your line, sister,' they'd say to me, and I'd say, 'But what if they do this,' and they'd tell me, 'No way, there has to be a line,'" Amos reminisces, then adds, "and that is very much a problem with women in relationships with men. They keep moving that fucking line."
Born Myra Ellen Amos thirty-two years ago in North Carolina, Amos began playing piano at two. When she was five, she was admitted to Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory. Family and friends marveled at little Myra, the child prodigy. But when Amos was eleven, she composed a piece that was considered "too radical and odd" by the Peabody board members.
She was kicked out. And, undoubtedly, Tori the rebel pianist was born. AT twenty-one she arrived in Hollywood and became a glam rock chick fronting her own heavy metal band, Y Kant Tori Read. The band didn't make it. But in 1991 Amos, down-to-earth and downsized, with just her piano, shook the music world with her album Little Earthquakes.
Amos's raw melodies, filled with rage and religious irreverence, found an audience in the alternative music scene pretty quickly. A second album, Under The Pink, releases two years later, was enthusiastically greeted by both the alternative and mainstream music scenes. America had caught on to Tori Amos.
She has since graced the cover of Spin, been featured in Rolling Stone and Details, and now, with the release of her third album, Boys for Pele, Tori Amos is on fire musically and, well, metaphorically.
In the title of her new album, Amos refers to the Hawaiian volcano Goddess, Pele, to whom men were sacrificed, tossed into a gaping inferno. "She is a reminder to myself to claim my own gifts from the fire," Amos explains.
Besides the fire Goddess Pele, Amos really has a thing for faeries. Not the kind of faerie you're thinking of -- actual faeries. During our talk she makes several references to the little sprites and has thanked them in all three of her albums. "I think people who can't believe in faeries are not worth knowing," Amos says.
With all this myth and magic, it sounds like Amos has been reading The Mists of Avalon. That she is an American who lives in a pink country cottage in England, dyes her hair a vibrant red (which draws out her large, elfin-like, aqua-blue eyes) suddenly makes all the sense in the world.
It also makes a lot of sense that, as a minister's daughter, Amos has her own bent on the bible. And just like in her music, it's a strong feminist one. "Many scholars believe that Mary Magdalene was a high priestess who came from the cult of Isis," Amos explains. "She wasn't this 'anything for a fiver, honey.' She was a peer to Jesus." In her new song "Muhammed, My Friend," Amos is inspired by this idea when she sings, "It's time to tell the world/ We both know it was a girl back in Bethlehem."
Lyrics like these would undoubtedly make at least a few theologians wince. But Amos doesn't hesitate to speak her mind, no matter how unpopular the notion may be. She recently heard someone saying that you couldn't fight the patriarchy in a tube top (Amos wore one for a photo in Spin's March 1996 issue). In a semi-rage she states, "This whole p.c. thing has to go down the toilet. This person should let us all in on the dress code necessary to fight the patriarchy, and isn't it interesting how patriarchal that statement is. If I think I need a cute little heel, some blush and a good lip line then that's what I need that day."
And what Amos needs, she goes for. By the time her tour wraps up, she will have performed more than two hundred shows throughout Europe and the United States. "I love to tour because there is no other energy. There is this voltage and surge, then calmness, sensuality, freedom, danger -- all of these emotions," she says. All that touring must be physically and emotionally exhausting. "Well, I have a really good chef and a great masseuse. After wrapping myself around the piano for thirty years, I feel like I should have an honorary geriatric card," she says, laughing.
And I think it's Amos's soft, secretive laugh that makes me feel I could laugh, cry and talk about Goddess imagery with her all day, but she's got another interview holding. After we say out goodbyes. I hear a faint voice in the background tell Amos that Sheila from Letterman is on line three. I can't help but wonder if Amos will tell Sheila about the faeries, too.
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